“Lots of folk can’t afford a car”

I tweeted about the thousands of people that will lose Motability cars (and wheelchairs) when their DLA is taken away.

A clueless person replied

they get £2k when car is taken away! Lots of folk can’t afford a car at all no matter what their situation x

Lots of poor people are “trapped” without a car but they don’t get £2k to help x

Where do I start?

Most people can walk, or cycle, or get the bus without it causing pain and exhaustion, or get the train, or do a combination of all of that. And yes, if someone is a customer of Motability when their DLA is taken away, they’ll get £2K from the charity. (Part of Motability is a charity.)

It won’t go far.

I have to have a car that is

  1. big enough to get a wheelchair in,
  2. comfortable enough not to leave me in pain,
  3. automatic, with an electric handbrake and cruise control, otherwise, again, pain.

£2K will not buy that car. It will also not do many taxi journeys to doctors, hospitals and supermarkets while living out here in the countryside. So I’ll have to use my electric wheelchair and the bus. I’ve only got the wheelchair because I begged for donations – remember, some use Motability to get one, and it’s a choice of wheelchair or car.

Taking the wheelchair on the bus is extremely exhausting for me and ultimately, painful. If I run out of energy or get overwhelmed by pain half way, I’m screwed. So I’ll stop going out except for vital things, like the doctor. Without a car, that trip takes several hours.

Then I spend a week recovering.

If I stop going out, my already precarious mental health takes a dive. I’ll probably become suicidal again.

Problem solved for the DWP, I suppose.

Just in case you’re under the misaprehension that PIP/DLA is only being taken away from people that don’t really need it, here’s what the DWP themselves said, quoted at a Judicial Review last year:

“we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.”

The government is deliberately taking help away from people who can walk more than twenty metres but still less than fifty, and they say they know that those people have “genuine need”, they just don’t care what cutting DLA will do to them.

Is it right to take DLA away from thousands of people because “Lots of folk can’t afford a car at all no matter what their situation”? Ask yourself if it has quite the same impact. Or why the hell you don’t ask why those other people aren’t paid enough to afford a car.

Legs, wheels and money

My old broken power wheelchair
My old broken powerchair

My electric wheelchair broke a couple of weeks ago after going up a too-steep ramp into a train, toppling backwards and then falling forwards fairly hard. That was quite inconvenient, especially when I discovered that the motors and brakes have burnt out and it will cost about a thousand pounds to fix. Since then I have had to fall back on a manual wheelchair, pushed by my wife. I can move my own wheelchair, just about, but it is still painful and exhausting for me. Fortunately I have just got a new car, so I can drive to most places and then use the wheelchair on arrival. Unfortunately, the manual wheelchair that I was given by family doesn’t fold up enough to fit in the back of my car.

I will qualify for a wheelchair from the NHS, and so I have asked to be referred to the local Wheelchair Services for an assessment. I am slightly stuck though. Walking and standing around result in high levels of pain and fatigue for me, as well as leaving me in danger of losing my balance and falling over. Despite this, I can walk around at home most of the time with only an occasional fall. NHS rules say that I can have a manual wheelchair for use outside, but because I can walk around at home I will not qualify for a powerchair even though I can’t propel myself most of the time. In fact, I probably won’t even get a self-propelled wheelchair since moving it myself can cause some pain and fatigue too, so I will end up with an attendant wheelchair, requiring someone to push me with no option to move myself at all. (See page 16 and 17 of this document for the full rules.)

Because a referral to the wheelchair service will quite likely take a few months, (I won’t be a high priority) and because I will probably get an attendant wheelchair rather than a self-propelled one, I bought a new wheelchair yesterday – a shiny new Karma Wren 2 self propel. The chair cost me £279 from a local shop called Indy Mobility. I could have found it slightly cheaper online but the staff at Indy Mobility were very helpful and put up with me for a couple of hours while I looked at all the options. They also didn’t charge me for the work done so far on my broken powerchair.

Karma Wren 2 wheelchair
My shiny new wheelchair

I was surprised how much easier the new chair is to self-propel than both my old one (and it is old!) and my dad’s one which I borrowed when my power chair broke down. That is partly because the new chair is made from lightweight aluminium but I think also due to it not being worn out. It is light enough that I can lift it into my car myself as long as I am not too tired at the time. It fits nicely in the boot of my car, as you can see in the picture below.

My new wheelchair in the back of my car
My new wheelchair in the back of my car

Wheelchairs are one of those extra expenses that disabled people can have which Disability Living Allowance is supposed to help pay for. While chairs are available from the NHS, it is quite common for them to be inadequate or to take a long time to get, even apart from cases like mine where I won’t qualify for a power chair which would help me the most. The Motability scheme which leases cars to disabled people in return for the mobility allowance from their DLA can also lease high-end powerchairs to them but I can’t do that because I already spend my DLA on a Motability car so I have had to buy my wheelchair with a credit card at very high interest. I think there are quite a few people stuck in this situation including Kaliya (@BendyGirl) who is currently trying to raise funds for a powerchair of her own. She really needs one to get around outside – just see her “deathwalk” video if you need convincing. Kaliya could use a powerchair inside as well, except that her flat does not have enough room for one. You can donate to Kaliya’s powerchair fund by sending money with Paypal to wheelchairforkali@carolineengland.co.uk or visit her blog post about it.

Karma Traveller 2 powerchair
Karma Traveller 2 powerchair

I have a possibility of getting part of the cost of an powerchair paid for by a local charity – the same one which gave me a small grant when I went to university and gave us food money last year when our benefits were screwed up. They require me to have attempted to get one from the NHS first, and so I must wait until I have been assessed before I can do that. I am hoping to take a voucher towards the cost of a wheelchair rather than a wheelchair itself from the NHS so that I can then put that voucher together with a charity grant if I can get one and buy a powerchair. I plan on getting one that is small and light and can come apart to go in my car – my old one weighed 90kg and even healthy people struggled to lift it. Indy Mobility suggested a Karma Traveller 2 which I think costs about £1,700, although I will have to find out what else is available. For now I will just have to rely on my wife to push me.

 

On bikes and cars

I’m a biker. I love motorbikes. I would gladly travel 200 miles on a bike in the rain rather than go in a car or a train. My wife shares my love of motorbikes and a few years ago after hearing stories about people giving up their motorbikes in favour of a car for practical reasons, she made me promise never to do that.

Unfortunately my failing body has broken that promise for me. I still have a motorbike, but I manage to ride it less than once a month and when I do I pay the price in pain and exhaustion for days afterwards. And so, when (if) I get awarded DLA, I am considering getting a car.

On the one hand, I hate the idea. I want two wheels, high acceleration, freedom to get around and through traffic, and just the pure thrill of having a bike. On the other hand, A car is much easier on my body. It doesn’t require me to expend limited energy on getting changed and all the preparations that riding a bike needs. I can stop and have a rest in a car. And, I can get a car on the Motability scheme. Having a car will enable me to get to the doctor, the hospital, get a haircut, collect my medicine. At this point I can’t really argue against the idea. I have considered the idea of a maxi-scooter instead – a big scooter with a 650cc engine which is easier than a bike and has lots of luggage space – but a car is still more appropriate for me in my current condition.

However, if I have to compromise on this, I want some concessions too. I want a lightweight car with good acceleration even if it doesn’t go that fast. I want it to feel sporty. I’m not too bothered about carrying more than one passenger. I wouldn’t mind an electric car, but they have extremely expensive batteries and most only have a range of a hundred miles or so at the moment.

So how about this? Start with a small budget car. Give it electric motors, but have them switchable between high-power and high-efficiency. That way I can be efficient most of the time but when I miss my motorbike I can do a bit of zooming around. Make it affordable by putting in only a small battery with a range of about thirty miles which would enable me to do all my local driving. Add a petrol generator to make it a true hybrid car and give it a two hundred mile range but then – and here’s the innovative bit – make the engine and petrol tank removable. When I want to visit the other side of the country, I can put the engine in and go. When I want to make small local trips, I can leave the engine and all that weight at home and gain efficiency and luggage space. And finally, make it cheap enough to put on the Motability scheme!

That’s the car that I want. Do any car manufacturers want to help out?

 

“Government sources” attacking disabled people

As I wrote in my last blog post, Benefits and BMWs, the recent article in the Sunday Times State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) was factually incorrect in the headline and in several points in the article. Since then I have found that the same story has appeared in numerous national and local newspapers. The story in most of the local papers was actually word-for-word the same – just google “Flash cars leased to disabled people” to find many examples of it or read this one at the London Evening Standard. Motability scheme ‘being abused’

I will reiterate here for those that haven’t read my last blog post – the government does not hand out cars to disabled people.  The most severely affected sick or disabled people can claim Disability Living Allowance, which includes a mobility component. Those people receive the money, which they can spend as they like, or buy a wheelchair, car etc. Many choose to sign over the mobility part of their DLA to the Motability scheme, which is not government run, in return for a car, wheelchair or scooter. They can also choose to pay an extra fee to upgrade to a more expensive car. In the case of a BMW, that would be at least an extra £1400. Vehicles hired through Motability are exempt from VAT and Vehicle Excise Duty. (“Road tax”) A car can be used by another person on behalf of the sick or disabled person without them being present, for example going shopping for them, or perhaps returning something that they had borrowed. If a Motability car is used by someone else for their own purposes, that is a breach of the rules of the Motability Scheme and raises problems with the road tax and possibly the VAT on the car, but does not involve benefit fraud since the DLA would have been paid to the sick or disabled person, car or not. Relatives or carers getting a “free car” and using it for their own purposes are doing so at the expense of the sick or disabled person, not the government or benefit fraud.

The stories about relatives getting “free cars” and about people receiving BMWs through Motability are worrying because they seem to originate from the government. The Sunday Times article does not mention it, but the Belfast Telegraph and the story duplicated in lots of local papers quotes “a Whitehall source” who would seem to be the only reason that this is a story at all. This source says “The issue this raises is ‘is Motability being abused?’ And the answer is absolutely, in some cases it is.” His statement is true, but judging from his other comments his emphasis seems heavily weighted towards smearing and attacking the Motability scheme and those that use it.

This is not the first time that anonymous government sources have provided stories to newspapers sympathetic to government policies. (And only newspapers sympathetic to government policies.) In a previous attack, government ministers released a select list of excuses for benefit fraud supplied to them by the Department of Work and Pensions. Of course the excuses were bizarre and most of these cases really were fraud, but no mention was made of the incredibly low fraud rate and how few cases excuses like this represent. The papers also took the opportunity to belittle addiction and “bad backs” as disabilities, despite them being crippling and life-destroying.

In another recent attack, newspapers quoted a “source close to the reforms.” We are not told where this information has come from, and yet it appeared in several newspapers at the same time. I have been unable to find a press release that correlates to this information, and therefore I must assume that the figures have been leaked to chosen newspapers by government.

Then we have government ministers giving innacurate or just plain wrong statistics on television or to journalists. Minister for the disabled Maria Miller announced on live television news that more people receive benefits for drug and alcohol addiction than for blindness (They don’t.) and employment minister Chris Grayling stated that 75% of people claiming ESA were fit to work. (They weren’t.) Ian Duncan-Smith stated during an interview on Newsnight that people on benefits are “putting nothing back into the community” even though in the rest of the interview he came across as genuinely wanting to help. Even the opposition seems to be getting in on the act, with Ed Miliband going after the “take what you can culture” and again branding benefit claimants as lazy shirkers or cheats. Presumably this is seen as the way to attract votes and popularity now.

We also see an attack from the sidelines by MP Philip Davies, who wants people with learning disabilities to work for less than minimum wage, as though they somehow need less to live on than other people.

All these attacks add up to something very disturbing. The government is steam-rollering through welfare reform with only an occasional speed bump when people raise specific instances such as cancer patients that won’t have enough time to recover if given time-limited Employment Support Allowance. Such a shame that while highlighting 7,000 cancer patients, Ed Miliband didn’t spare a thought for the other 700,000 seriously sick or disabled people affected by the same rules. The pace of savage cuts and reforms backed up by relentless propaganda is terrifying and it is taking us towards a society that no longer cares for those who are sick or disabled.

 

Related blog posts

Benefits and BMWs

Compare and contrast

Response to the attack on DLA in today’s papers

“Putting nothing back into the community”

Other Links

Benefit Fraud: a success story the government doesn’t want you to know about

Ed Miliband and the “Cheats” and “Shirkers”

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Benefits and BMWs

The Sunday Times has decided to be outraged about people on benefits getting BMW cars. The headline they ran with was State hands out BMWs to ‘disabled’ (Paywall link) and it was plastered across the front page.

Unfortunately there are so many errors in the article that even the headline is plain wrong. To start with, the state does not “hand out” any cars to “the disabled”. Disabled people or the long term sick may get the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance to provide for their travel needs, and it can be spent as the recipient chooses but usually goes towards cars, wheelchairs, scooters, trains, buses, taxis and more. There is a charity scheme called Motability, and if a person wishes, they can pay the mobility component of their DLA to the Motability scheme in return for a car.

The state has not handed anyone a car, people have received the benefits to which they are entitled, and chosen to spend their money on a car.

The Motobility scheme works on the basis of leasing a new car out, and then selling it at the end of three years. (This works out cheaper than buying second hand cars and paying for their maintenance, and is more reliable and safer.) Motability has a set budget and any extra cost over the standard amount has to be covered by the user of the car – for example if the car has been driven more than the expected distance, there will be a mileage fee when the car is handed back. If someone wants a more expensive car to start with then they can pay the difference in cost so that Motability does not lose money. Some people pay a few hundred pounds extra to get a car more suitable for their medical condition, such as a car with a higher seat for people that struggle getting in and out of the car, or find low seating painful. These people often borrow at their own expense to pay the difference in cost. A BMW can be had through Motability for an extra fee in the same way that a slightly higher model Citroen could be. It’s just that there is a big difference in the size of that extra fee.

To get a BMW on Motability costs the end user at least £1,399 extra, and it is a fee, not a deposit.

It should be noted that DLA is not an out of work benefit, it is paid to everyone that has a qualifying disability, regardless of their work status or income. People that are still in work, especially if in a high powered job, or that have savings, might be able to afford the extra fee. Whether that is right or wrong is a different argument, but no fraud has been committed as DLA was intended to cover the extra cost of disability when working as much as when not.

The Sunday Times also talked about people using the car without the owner present. Some of the the points they made were true, but they missed that the car may be used on behalf of the sick or disabled person or for their benefit. That means that a carer could drive the car to go shopping to buy food for the owner of the car, completely within the rules. Of course they can’t use the owner’s blue badge or park in a disabled parking space, since they can walk across the car park.

Someone else can use a Motability car on behalf of the owner without them present.

The Sunday Times highlighted two cases of fraud in an attempt to back up their argument. One was someone whose health had improved but who had not informed the DWP and had gone back to work as a boxer, and the other was someone that was using his wife’s car to make deliveries as a courier. Benefit fraud levels are incredibly low, but with millions of people involved, even 0.5% means that a few people committing fraud can be found. Highlighting two cases without telling the reader how small a minority commit fraud is highly misleading. It should also be noted that while the boxer who didn’t inform anyone of his improvement was committing benefit fraud, the person driving his wife’s car was not. He was breaking the rules of the motability scheme and driving a car without paying the vehicle excise duty. (Which is waived for people receiving higher rate mobility component of DLA.) He had not defrauded the government out of any DLA benefit money.

The whole article has the same tone that we are becoming used to from mainstream newspapers. The implication that everyone on benefits is a scrounger. The article mentions that 123,000 people receive DLA for back pain, as though back pain is a simple thing or is somehow less worthy of support. (It covers scoliosis, degenerative spinal conditions, botched surgery resulting in nerve damage or paralysis.) Even the use of quotes around the word disabled in the headline is used to imply quite strongly that these people are not really disabled. I refuse to believe that the ‘journalists’ (see what I did there?) are that ignorant or don’t understand DLA and Motability. There is a clear agenda in this article to smear these people and create outrage. It is not acceptable and an apology must be given. I urge you to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about the factual innacuracies in their article, as I will be doing.

Cross posted at Where’s the Benefit?